Oakland Athletics Top 10 Midseason Prospects
SEE ALSO: Midseason Top 10 Prospects
The Athletics entered the all-star break with the No. 4 offense in the American League in terms of OPS+. While that might not sound impressive, consider the fact that Oakland has the lowest payroll in the game, and that the teams outranking them in OPS+ were the AL super teams in Houston, Boston and New York.
Two of the players most responsible for the Athletics’ offensive excellence were a pair of young homegrown stars: first baseman Matt Olson (2012 supplemental first round) and third baseman Matt Chapman (2014 first round). Another talented young hitter, Chad Pinder (2013 supplemental second round), also contributed to the Oakland attack while starting multiple games at every position but catcher and first base.
Buoyed by their strong offense, the Athletics are just three games behind the surprising, Robinson Cano-less Mariners for the second wild card in the AL. However, Seattle is a prime regression candidate in the second half because it had dramatically overperformed in one-run games, winning nearly 70 percent of the time.
Run prevention had been a much more significant challenge for the Athletics, who allowed more runs than the average AL team in the first half and had contended with injuries to all their starters except lefthander Sean Manaea and righthander Daniel Mengden. That created a merry-go-round that thrust all sorts of volatile young pitchers (Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt, Daniel Gossett) and journeymen (Edwin Jackson, Brett Anderson) into the rotation, which put the club at a disadvantage.
The one saving grace for the Oakland pitching staff had been its bullpen, led by closer Blake Treinen and rookie setup man Lou Trivino. The group collectively had been more effective than any AL team’s bullpen except . . . the Astros, Red Sox and Yankees.
Rather than bolstering a weakness, the Athletics decided to add to a strength for their first big move before the trade deadline. The A’s traded righthander Bobby Wahl, third baseman Will Toffey and $1 million in international bonus pool money to the Mets for righthander Jeurys Familia. Familia joins Treinen to give the A’s a pair of dominating closers.
Because of the strength of their lineup and bullpen and their place in the standings, the A’s should consider themselves buyers at the trade deadline. If Oakland wants to make further moves, they have a strong farm system and the prospect depth to swing more deals, whether they be major or minor.
1. Jesus Luzardo, LHP
Luzardo entered the season with five appearances outside the complex leagues, but that didn’t stop the Athletics from aggressively pushing him to high Class A Stockton. He quickly tamed the California League and moved onto the Texas League, where he has established himself as one of the top pitching prospects in the game. Luzardo pitches at 92-93 mph with precise command to both sides of the plate, and he can max out near 97 mph. His lethal, double-plus changeup might be the best in the minors, while he can change shapes with a swing-and-miss breaking ball that flashes plus. Luzardo ties the package together with a cohesive delivery and outstanding competitive makeup.
2. A.J. Puk, LHP
On DL recovering from Tommy John surgery
The No. 6 overall pick in 2016, Puk stood poised to contribute to the Athletics’ rotation this season until Tommy John surgery felled him during spring training. The 6-foot-7 lefty creates unique plane with his mid-90s fastball that is difficult to square up. When healthy in 2017, he peaked at 98 mph with a swing-and-miss changeup and slider he used to fan a minor league-best 13.2 per nine innings.
3. Sean Murphy, C
Murphy moves well behind the plate, especially for his 6-foot-4 size, and unleashes bazooka throws from his double-plus arm. That he has hit for average and plus power to all fields in the Texas League has sealed his status as the top position prospect in the system and one of the top catching prospects in baseball.
4. Franklin Barreto, 2B/SS
Outside of a few tape-measure home runs, Barreto hasn’t found much success in Oakland yet. The Athletics like his well-rounded game, though, and expect he will catch on to major league pitchers. After all, he has batted more than 1,200 times at Double-A and Triple-A at a young age because the ball comes off his bat so well. Barreto also brandishes plus speed, a strong arm and good hands at either middle infield spot.
5. Kyler Murray, OF
Will not play until 2019
Murray gained serious draft helium as an Oklahoma junior in 2018 by hitting .296 with 10 home runs, though his status as the projected starting quarterback for the OU football team clouded his baseball future. The Athletics struck a deal with Murray as the No. 9 overall pick this year, signing him for $4.7 million and allowing him to play football this fall and delay his baseball career until 2019. Scouts love Murray’s bat speed, power and glove in center field, but his skills are raw after not playing much baseball in 2016 or 2017.
6. Austin Beck, OF
Low Class A Beloit
Drafted sixth overall in 2017, Beck scuffled through much of his first pro summer in the Rookie-level Arizona League before adjusting in August and in instructional league. He looks like a different player this year in the Midwest League, where he has hit near .300 while showcasing plus defense in center field, a double-plus arm, plus speed and emerging all-fields power.
7. Jorge Mateo, SS
Mateo appeared close to the majors last year, when he swiped 52 bases and knocked 60 extra-base hits in a season he finished at Double-A. He has scuffled mightily during his first taste of Triple-A this year, however, failing to impact the ball regularly or even steal bases efficiently. Despite his struggles, scouts still see a lot to like about Mateo. He grades as a plus defender at shortstop with a double-plus arm and top-of-the-scale speed. Improving his plate discipline will determine how much he will hit.
8. Lazaro Armenteros, OF
Low Class A Beloit
Signed out of Cuba in 2016, Armenteros boasts loud raw tools and a body that has been compared with Andre Dawson. Assigned to the Midwest League in May and on the disabled list for most of June, "Lazarito” still electrifies observers in short looks. His raw power grades as double-plus, and his advanced hitting approach should help him access it in games. He runs well but is limited to left field by a poor arm.
9. James Kaprielian, RHP
On DL recovering from Tommy John surgery
The Athletics traded for Kaprielian while he was on the disabled list, and they still haven’t seen him pitch nearly a year later. He had Tommy John surgery in April 2017 while a member of the Yankees’ organization and then suffered a shoulder injury setback while rehabbing his elbow, but he is on target for a return later this summer. When healthy, Kaprielian shows mid-90s heat and a well-rounded arsenal of above-average weapons he has used to slice through low-level competition.
10. Sheldon Neuse, 3B
Neuse reached Triple-A to begin his third pro season this year—but 2018 does not resemble his previous work. All he did was hit in 2017 as he climbed from low Class A to Double-A, and he didn’t stop hitting at big league camp this spring. But Neuse’s time at Nashville had been marred by an uncharacteristic strikeout rate (37 percent) and low impact. He’s a deceptive athlete who plays a strong third base and can fill in at second base or shortstop.
Rule 5 Draft Protections Show Teams Picked Wisely In 2017, 2018
When it came to drafting, teams seemed to do better than normal in the first round of the draft recently.
- SS Eli White, an 11th-round pick out of Clemson in 2016, plays all over the infield and has even seen time in center field. He has shown gap power, strike-zone management and solid speed all while hitting over .300 in his first run through Double-A.
- SS Richie Martin hit .230-something in each of his first three pro seasons, but he made adjustments this season and the ball is coming off his bat with more authority at Double-A Midland. The 2015 first-rounder is a plus defender with sneaky power.
- OF Luis Barrera shows a wide-ranging skill set, including strong plate discipline, plus speed, emerging power and improving range in center field.
- SS Jorge Mateo entered the year ranked No. 3 in the system but has slipped to No. 7 after a tepid first half at Triple-A Nashville.
- The Athletics’ other prospects who had failed to live up to preseason expectations had done so largely because of injury, making it unfair to classify them as falling.
- Like James Kaprielian, RHP Daulton Jefferies spent all spring rehabbing from Tommy John surgery he had in early 2017.
- LHP A.J. Puk had Tommy John surgery in April.
- C Sean Murphy fractured the hook in the hamate bone of his right hand and will miss at least six weeks. The injury cost him a chance to play in the Futures Game.
- OF Dustin Fowler recovered from a gruesome, season-ending knee injury last year to play well at Triple-A Nashville for a month before assuming the center field job in Oakland.
- RHP Frankie Montas rode a mid-90s fastball and quality slider to a gig in the injury-depleted big league rotation.
- RHP Lou Trivino emerged as a 26-year-old rookie reliever who throws 97 mph heat, had recorded a 1.51 ERA through his first 30 appearances and works in more high-leverage spots than any Oakland reliever but closer Blake Treinen.